26 Ancient Theaters in Greece

26 Ancient Theaters in Greece

Ancient theaters in Greece are very special kinds of ancient ruins. Western theater was born in Greece and the great ancient playwrights such as Sophocles and Aeschylus had their works performed in these theaters. A lot of historical figures were also murdered in theaters!

In this most complete guide on the internet to the 26 most significant and impressive ancient theaters in Greece, you’ll discover when they were built, how to find them, and why history has remembered these particular structures. If you will be near one on your next trip to Greece, make a detour and see some of the world’s most historic ruins.

What were theaters in Ancient Greece?

A theater in Ancient Greece was built to entertain people, first through the performance of plays, and later through a large variety of cultural performances.

The ancient Greeks invented Western Theater at the Theater of Dionysus in Athens. This is one of the most significant and enduring gifts of the Ancient Greeks to Western culture.

Detail of a sarcophagus relief with Muses and theatrical masks, from the Via Appia in Rome, around 200 AD, Altes Museum, Berlin. Credit: Carole Raddato, CC BY-SA 2.0
A sarcophagus relief with Muses and theatrical masks around 200 AD. Credit: Carole Raddato, CC BY-SA 2.0

🎭Three types of plays were performed in ancient theatres in Greece – tragedies, comedies, and satyr plays. The great tragedy writers were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The great Comedy writers were Aristophanes and Menander.

Satyr plays were irreverent and crass scenes between the main sections of the tragedies or comedies for light relief for the audience – a kind of intermission.

Most of the ancient theatres here are Greek, but they were built in both Greek and Roman antiquity in Greece.

🎭 When I first began visiting these ancient theatres in Greece, I was puzzled as to why they were often in sanctuaries dedicated to the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. But then I remembered from my years of teaching medical anthropology, that ancient Greek medicine proscribed a healthy and balanced lifestyle with lots of pleasurable as well as intellectual distractions. Theatre was considered an important part of the healing process.

🎭 A Roman theatre is usually called an Odeon, and theatre was extremely important in the Roman World, just as it was in the Greek Classical and Hellenistic periods.

🎭Ancient theatres were often built into the side of a hill (amphitheatrically) and were large open-air structures that included the orchestra which was a circular flat area for the chorus (consisting of 15 people), and the theatron, or the structure of the building.

🎭 The skene was the rectangular “hut” behind the orchestra where actors changed costumes or masks. Masks made from linen (or wood or cork) were worn by the actors – all actors were male.

🎭 Theatron was also used as the word for the whole theatre, meaning “seeing places.”

🎭The cavea (seating area) was built into the hill vertically allowing the voices of the actors to carry up and around the theatre.

For many cities, their theatres became important cultural symbols of identity but even today many of these theatres have been reclaimed by modern-day Greeks who hold annual festivals and keep alive their connection and pride in their astonishingly rich ancient history and mythology.

Unfortunately what you will see at many of these sites are tiers of seats in various stages of ruin, in beautiful surroundings, but together these 26 theatres of Ancient Greece leave us in no doubt about the importance of community, creativity, and the arts for ancient Greek and Roman peoples.

1. Ancient Theater of Dionysus (Athens, 6th century BC)

Address: Dionysiou Areopagitou, Athens 105 55, Greece (at the southern entrance to the Acropolis)

Theatre of Dionysus, Acropolis Hill, Athens

As the birthplace of European theatre, the Theatre of Dionysus has a rich and profound history. Constructed in the 5th century BC at the foot of the Acropolis, it was here that the plays of masters such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes were first performed.

This open-air theatre is the earliest preserved in Athens, with remains indicating it could seat up to 17,000 spectators. It hosted the City Dionysia, an annual festival where dramatic competitions were held.

Under the gaze of the Acropolis, and despite partial ruin, its remaining stone tiers, marble chairs, and orchestra still offer a sense of its original grandeur.

The birthplace of Greek tragedy, The Theatre of Dionysus is one of the world’s most significant ruins and in terms of ancient theatres, there isn’t a more important one.

2. Ancient Theater of Epidaurus (Peloponnese, late 4th century BC)

Address: Asklepieion, Epidavros 210 52, Greece

Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, Peloponnese, Greece

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus is the best preserved ancient theatre in Greece and one of the best preserved in the world.

It is renowned for its exceptional acoustics and healing atmosphere, aligning with the sanctuary of Asclepius, the god of medicine nearby.

Its near-perfect circular orchestra, symmetry, and 55 tiers of seats, which could accommodate up to 14,000 spectators, is an astounding site.

This is the first time a circular orchestra was used in the design of ancient Greek theatres.

While it’s well-preserved, not all sections are accessible to the public to protect the monument.

Plays are still staged here during the summer Epidaurus Festival. The theatre and the nearby sanctuary present a remarkable picture of the therapeutic practices and cultural events in ancient Greece.

It’s most definitely worth a day trip from Athens to see and even better, to base yourself in nearby Nafplio to see the Epidaurus Theater and the other great sights of the Peloponnese.

3. Odeon of Herodes Atticus (Athens, 161 AD)

Address: Dionysiou Areopagitou, Athens 105 55, Greece

Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Acropolis Hill, Greece
Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Acropolis Hill, Athens, Greece

Also known as ‘Herodeon,’ this Roman theater was built on the southwest slope of the Acropolis in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus, a Roman senator and sophist, as a tribute to his wife.

This impressive stone theatre, with a capacity of 5,000, still hosts performances during the annual Athens Festival, providing a magical setting under the stars.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is generally well-preserved, with the three-story stone front wall standing in its full glory. Its opening hours vary depending on the events, so it’s advisable to check the Athens Festival schedule.

The history of Herodes and his contributions to Athens adds a romantic and intellectual touch to this architectural masterpiece.

It’s hard not to miss the Odeon of Herodes Atticus when you visit the Acropolis. It’s a must-see on any self-guided tour of the Acropolis and its monuments.

4. Ancient Theater of Delphi (Central Greece, 4th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Delphi, Delphi 330 54, Greece

The Ancient Theater of Delphi, Greece
The Ancient Theater of Delphi, Greece

Nestled within the sacred precinct of Apollo’s sanctuary, this theatre was the venue for plays during the Pythian Games, held every four years in honor of Apollo.

The theatre is built into the hillside, providing a view of the entire sanctuary and the spectacular landscape beyond. The theatre can seat 5,000 spectators.

The archaeological site of Delphi is spectacular, and the history of the Oracle of Delphi is world famous and made this such an important site for the ancient world.

Despite being partially restored, the feel of the site on Mount Parnassus, especially with the Temple of Apollo ruins nearby, is extraordinary.

5. Ancient Theater of Delos (South Aegean, 3rd century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Delos, 846 00, Greece.

Ancient Theatre of Delos, Delos Island, Greece
Ancient Theatre of Delos, Delos Island, Greece

The size of the theatre of Delos hints at the cultural and religious significance of this sacred island, renowned as the mythical birthplace of the twin deities Apollo and Artemis.

But despite the enormous religious importance of Delos, it was not just a spiritual center but also a thriving commercial hub.

Built using local marble and granite, the theatre had a capacity of approximately 5,500 spectators. It featured a typical Greek design, with a semi-circular orchestra, a skene for backdrops, and an expansive cavea for the audience.

This suggests it was a venue for not only theatrical performances, but also large-scale religious festivals, public gatherings, and civic discussions.

The Theatre of Delos was most likely in active use until the island was abandoned in the 1st century AD following repeated attacks by pirates on Delos and nearby islands such as Mykonos.

After centuries of neglect, the theatre was unearthed during archaeological excavations in the late 19th century.

Sections of the stage and seating areas, though weathered by time, remain intact and when you sit in the tiered seating, you have marvelous views out to sea across the island.

6. Ancient Theater of Philippi (Macedonia, 4th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Philippi, Krinides 640 03, Greece

Ancient Theater of Phillipi, Greece

Originally built in the 4th century BC, it was later remodeled by the Romans for gladiator and animal fights. The remains of the theatre provide insight into Roman architecture and showbiz.

The Battle of Philippi, which led to the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Empire, was fought here, adding a significant historical layer to your visit.

7. Ancient Theater of Argos (Peloponnese, 5th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Larissa, Argos 212 00, Greece

Ancient Theater of Argos, Peloponnese, Greece
Ancient Theater of Argos, Peloponnese, Greece

One of the oldest Greek theatres, built in the late 5th century BC, it could hold 20,000 spectators, showing the importance of Argos as a cultural center.

It was used for dramatic performances and major religious festivals. Though partially ruined, its unique elliptical shape and the cavea’s (seating area) layout are visible.

The panorama of the modern city of Argos and Larisa castle from the theatre adds to the experience.

8. Ancient Theater of Dion (Macedonia, 5th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Park of Dion, Dion 601 00, Greece (at the southern foot of Mt. Olympus)

Hellenistic Theater at the Archaeological Park of Dion. Pieria, Macedonia, Greece
Hellenistic Theater at the Archaeological Park of Dion. Pieria, Macedonia, Greece

This Hellenistic period theatre, part of an extensive archaeological park that hosted the grand Dionysian festivities, a series of theatrical performances, and contests in music and athletics, dedicated to Zeus, the Muses, and Dionysus.

Unfortunately, it is largely in ruins. It is perhaps most significant because the ancient Greek tragedy, The Bacchae, written by Euripides premiered at the Theater of Dion in 405 BC (I would have loved to be there!)

Constructed in the 5th century BC, this open-air theatre is a testament to ancient Greek architectural prowess. Originally designed with wooden rows, it was later rebuilt in stone in the 2nd century BCE.

Close to the Theater of Dion are the Sanctuaries of Zeus, Demeter, Isis, and Asclepius and so it’s not surprising that the Archaeological Park of Dion is the largest archaeological zone on Mount Olympus.

Along with the theatre, you’ll find the remnants of a Hellenistic city wall and the former social hub of Roman Dion – the baths (the Great Thermae).

The nearby archaeological museum is both a high-quality experience but also an important one because it really does explain well what went on in the ancient city of Dion.

It’s not far, so don’t miss it! There is also a very special surprise in the building behind it (The Archaeotheke) that was built to house the Dionysus Mosaic so that it can be viewed from every angle.

The Olympus Festival is held in the ancient theatre each summer.

9. Ancient Theater of Aegae (Macedonia, late 4th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Aigai, Vergina 590 31, Greece

Ruins of the Ancient Theater of Aegae, Macedonia
Ruins of the Ancient Theater of Aegae, Macedonia, Greece

This is one of the most dramatic locations in the ancient world.

Located near the royal tombs of Aegae (modern-day Vergina), this theatre in the ancient capital of Macedonia is where King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, was assassinated.

While the theatre itself is not well-preserved, the nearby palace and the UNESCO World Heritage site, the royal tombs of Vergina, including the tomb believed to be of Philip II, are some of the most important archaeological sites in Northern Greece.

10. Ancient Theater of Rhodes (Dodecanese, late 2nd century BC)

Address: Monte Smith Hill, Rhodes Town 851 00, Greece

Hellenistic Theater of Rhodes, Rhodes Town, Rhodes, Greece
Hellenistic Theater of Rhodes, Rhodes Town, Rhodes, Greece

A 2nd-century BC theatre, exemplifying Hellenistic theatre architecture, is located in the acropolis of Rhodes City.

The theatre is freely accessible year-round, and while parts of it are well-preserved, some are in a state of ruin. The white marble seats and stairs are particularly impressive.

The site offers a panoramic view of modern Rhodes City. The close proximity of the Temple of Apollo and the stadium offers more historical sites to explore, and you’re within reach of the Ancient Greek ruins on top of the mighty Acropolis of Lindos.

11. Ancient Theater of Dodona (Epirus, 3rd century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Dodoni, Ioannina 455 00, Greece

Ancient Theater of Dodoni, Ioannina, Greece
Ancient Theater of Dodoni, Ioannina, Greece

If, like me, you love a good Greek Oracle, you’ll love the theatre of Dodona. The theatre is linked to the oldest oracle in Greece, the Oracle of Dodona

The Oracle of Dodona is second in fame only to Delphi, making it a fascinating place to visit if you’re interested in ancient Greek religion and mythology.

This ancient Greek theatre is also one of the oldest Hellenistic theatres, built in the 3rd century BC with a capacity of about 14,000.

Located within a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus and Dione, it hosted the Naia festival, a series of games and theatrical performances.

12. Ancient Theater of Thassos (North Aegean, early 5th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Thassos, Limenas Thassos 640 04, Greece

Ancient theater, archaeological site in Limenas. Thassos, Greece
Ancient theater at the archaeological site of Limenas. Thassos, Greece

This theatre was constructed in the Hellenistic period and had a seating capacity of 3,000. It was used for drama performances and gladiatorial fights during the Roman era.

Currently, the theatre is partly restored, with gorgeous views out over the Aegean Sea. It’s open to visitors year-round, usually from sunrise to sunset, and occasionally hosts performances during the summer.

The sanctuary of Dionysus, the god of wine, theatre, and ecstasy, was nearby, reinforcing the importance of theatrical tradition on this northernmost Aegean Island.

13. Odeon of Ancient Corinth (Peloponnese, late 5th century BC)

Address: Ancient Corinth, Corinth 200 07, Greece

Roman_Odeon_of_Corinth, Peloponnese, Greece. Credit: Zde, CC-BY-SA-4.0
Roman Odeon of Corinth, Peloponnese, Greece. Credit: Zde, CC-BY-SA-4.0

Built in the early 1st century AD, this small covered theatre was used for music and poetry recitals. While much of it is in ruins, visitors can still see the semi-circular orchestra and some of the stone seats.

It is part of the larger incredible archaeological site of Ancient Corinth that is significant for many reasons, among them the Temple of Apollo and the Acrocorinth, and the visits made by Saint Paul to the mighty city-state of Ancient Corinth.

14. Ancient Theater of Messene (Peloponnese, 3rd century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Messene, Mavrommati 240 02, Greece

Ancient Theater of Messene, Peloponnese, Greece
Ancient Theater of Messene, Peloponnese, Greece

This 3rd-century BC theatre was a key venue for the city’s assemblies and dramatic performances. The theatre is in a fair state of preservation.

Ancient Messene is an extraordinary site that is a hidden gem. The theatre of Ancient Messene is well preserved and an impressive size.

It still retains part of the theatron (the structure of the theatre), as well as the orchestra, and seating.

Together with the colossal walls and the Arcadian Gate nearby, you get a real sense of the ancient city’s grandeur.

15. Ancient Theater of Gortyn (Crete, 1st century AD)

Address: Archaeological Site of Gortyna, Agii Deka 700 12, Greece

Ancient Theater of Gortyn, Crete, Greece
Ancient Theater of Gortyn, Crete, Greece

This ancient Roman theatre, is linked to the ancient law code of Gortyn through its preserved inscriptions that give us insight into the social and political life of Gortyn.

This historically significant open-air theater is partially in ruins but nearby is the Praetorium, the residence of the Roman governor.

For lovers of Greek mythology, you’ll also find nearby the plane tree under which Zeus and Europa allegedly consummated their love. How could you not want to see that?

16. Ancient Theater of Eretria (Euboea, 5th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Eretria, Eretria 340 08, Greece

Ancient Theatre of Erteria, Euboea, Greece

Associated with the ancient city-state of Eretria, the theatre witnessed major historical events.

This 5th-century BC theatre represents Eretria’s vibrant cultural and intellectual life. Though in ruins, the theatre offers a magnificent view of the Evian Gulf. The myth of Hercules and the cattle of Geryon is closely tied to the region, adding a heroic flavor to your visit.

17. Ancient Theater of Maroneia (Thrace, 3rd century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Maroneia, Maroneia 640 11, Greece

Ancient Theater of Maroneia, Greece
Ancient Theater of Maroneia, Greece

Built in the 3rd century BC, it had a seating capacity of 2,500.

It was a cultural focal point in Maroneia, a city renowned for its wine. The theatre is partially restored and from its top rows, you can enjoy a splendid view over the Thracian Sea.

The legend of Maron, a companion of Dionysus who taught the Thracians viticulture, is linked with Maroneia, making it a great destination for wine lovers.

18. Ancient Theater of Sikyon (Peloponnese, late 4th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Sikyon, Vasiliko 200 15, Greece

Ancient Theatre of Sikyon, Peloponnese, Greece
Ancient Theatre of Sikyon, Peloponnese, Greece

Near the modern village of Vasiliko, the ancient city of Sikyon was a hub for sculpture and theatre arts.

Its theatre, built in the late 4th century BC, is one of the largest in the Peloponnese, with a capacity of 8,000 spectators. It’s in a fairly ruined state but is freely accessible year-round.

The adjacent remains of the ancient agora (marketplace) and the Roman baths provide a broader picture of the city’s vibrant past.

19. Ancient Theater of Thorikos (Attica, 525-480 BC)

Address:  Archaeological Site of Thorikos, Lavrio 195 00, Greece.

Ancient Greek Theatre of Thorikos, Atticus, Greece
Ancient Greek Theatre of Thorikos, Atticus, Greece

On the southern coast of Attica, you’ll find one of the oldest known theatres in the world.

It’s an interesting theater because it teaches us about the evolution of theatrical architecture in ancient Greece. It is a surviving theatre from the earliest forms of theatre architecture.

This theatre’s oblong, or ‘rectangular horseshoe’, shape stands in stark contrast to the semicircular form that is characteristic of later Greek and Roman theatres, making it an architectural curiosity.

Thorikos was an important mining area, producing silver that contributed to Athens’ prosperity. The theatre was closely associated with the mining community.

The layout was composed of an orchestra and a cavea, the seating area, which originally consisted of compacted earth and wooden benches before being replaced by stone in the 5th century BC.

Interestingly, the theatre’s ten distinct seating sections, or ‘cunei’, could accommodate up to 4,000 spectators, a testament to the thriving cultural life of Thorikos at the time and the wealth generated by the silver mines in the region.

The theatre underwent several modifications over the centuries before it fell into disuse in the Roman era.

20. Ancient Theater of Megalopolis (Peloponnese, 3rd century BC)

Address: Megalopolis, Arcadia 222 00, Greece

Ruins of Megalopolis Theatre, Arcadia, Greece
Archaeological site of ancient Megalopolis at Arcadia, Greece

The ruins of the ancient theatre in the city of Megalopolis are at Arcadia. Known as the “great theatre,” it is the largest ancient theatre in Greece, with a capacity of 20,000 spectators.

Only the smallest part is visible now, but if you look upwards at the amphitheatrical mounds around it, you can see how it must once, like the theatre of Epidaurus, been a mighty structure.

The theatre was part of a complex that included a stadium and a sanctuary and despite being largely in ruins, you can still see the stage building and part of the cavea.

21. Ancient Theater of Patras (West Greece, 160 AD)

Address: Roman Odeon of Patras, Patras 262 21, Greece

The Theatre of Patras, also known as the Roman Odeon, is a splendid monument dating back to the reign of Augustus in the 2nd century AD that was restored in the 1950s.

Designed in the classic Roman enclosed style, the theatre once held a central place in the cultural and social life of Patras, one of the most significant cities in the Roman province of Achaea.

With its stone-constructed orchestra and auditorium, it was built to accommodate around 2,300 spectators. Together with its ornate Corinthian columns and fine marble details, it’s a theatre well worth visiting.

It was used for music contests, theatrical performances, and poetry readings, serving as an influential hub of arts and entertainment.

22. Ancient Theater of Oeniadae (West Greece, 3rd century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Oiniadai, Astakos 300 12, Greece

Theatre of Oeniadae, Western Greece
Theatre of Oeniadae, Western Greece. Credit: Dan Diffendale, Flickr

Oeniadae was a shipbuilding city and a thriving seaport when its theatre was built in the shipbuilding sector of the city. Today, it’s a well-preserved site (the Trikardos site) near the ship sheds where Roman triremes were hauled for maintenance.

Constructed primarily from local gray limestone, the theatre exhibits a classical Greek architectural style but the cavea is larger than a semicircle. Only 19 rows remain of what was originally 28 rows.

Its semi-circular orchestra and the auditorium, or koilon, with a seating capacity for approximately 3,000 spectators, served as a grand stage for theatrical performances and civic events.

The theater fell into disuse over time and became covered by dirt until it was excavated beginning in 1987.

23. Ancient Theater of Sparta (Peloponnese, 1st century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of the Ancient Theatre, Sparti 231 00, Greece

Ruins of the Ancient Theatre of Sparta in Greece
Ruins of the Ancient Theatre of Sparta in Greece

The ruins of the theatre of Ancient Sparta are a historical paradox. Sparta, unlike most Greek city-states, was not known for its love of arts and theatre. The city was famously militaristic, focusing more on discipline, valor, and physical prowess.

However, the theatre’s grandeur hints at a different aspect of Spartan life. Its impressive size, accommodating up to 15,000 spectators, indicates that it was a significant meeting place, used not just for rare performances but also for political gatherings and community discussions.

The theatre was primarily built from local limestone and marble, showcasing the blend of Spartan simplicity and Roman architectural grandeur.

Its vast semi-circular stage and seating area are still visible, though worn by time but what we see today are the remains from the Roman era.

During the Byzantine period, the auditorium was demolished. Houses and shops replaced it.

The panoramic view from the theatre south to the modern city of Sparta is wonderful and a visit to these ruins provides a deeper understanding of the unique ancient Spartan culture.

24. Ancient Theater of Aegira (Peloponnese, 5th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Aigeira, Aigeira 250 10, Greece

Ancient Theatre of Aigeira, Peloponnese, Greece. CC4.0 Peloponnisios
Ancient Theatre of Aigeira, Peloponnese, Greece. CC4.0 Peloponnisios

This well-preserved ancient theatre was a cultural beacon in the northern Peloponnese.

Open to visitors year-round, it offers a splendid view of the Corinthian Gulf.

The theatre is adjacent to the remains of the ancient city, including the Agora and the Acropolis, offering a comprehensive view of life in an ancient Greek polis.

25. Odeon of Kos (South Aegean, 2nd century AD)

Address: Archaeological Site of Kos, Kos 853 00, Greece.

Roman Odeon of Kos, Kos Island, Greece
Roman Odeon of Kos, Kos Island, Greece

The Odeon of Kos was once a central venue for cultural events on the island. Unlike grand open-air theatres, this odeon was a more intimate venue, designed for music performances, poetry readings, and possibly also for small-scale dramas.

Constructed mainly from local marble, it was a smaller, more intimate theatre, with seating for about 750 spectators. Its smaller size, coupled with the remains of decorative frescoes and ornate detailing, tells us that the Odeon of Kos was a venue intended for refined entertainment.

Over the centuries, the odeon was partially buried and forgotten until it was rediscovered and restored last century.

It is in Kos city and so it is easy to visit – don’t miss this lovely example of an ancient Roman Odeon.

26. Theatre of Hephaistia (North Aegean, 5th century BC)

Address: Archaeological Site of Hephaistia, Lemnos 814 00, Greece.

Ancient Theatre of Hephaistia, Lemnos Island, Greece
Ancient Theatre of Hephaistia, Lemnos Island, Greece

Despite the relative isolation of Lemnos Island, Hephaistia, its major city, was a lively center of trade and culture, and the theatre was at its heart.

The theatre is built mainly from local stone in a traditional Greek theatre design, with a semi-circular orchestra and a skene – a backdrop where scenic elements could be placed.

The seating area, built in the shape of a perfect semicircle, could accommodate up to 2,000 spectators.

For such an out-of-the-way city, its theatre’s capacity, coupled with its superior acoustics, tells us that the theatre was a significant venue for both theatrical performances and civic events